In an increasingly devaluated and underestimated profession, IT consultants are facing new challenges through entering to the new digital era, infested with tons of data on the internet, thousands of smart apps on the market, and hundreds of startups trying to fulfill or create necessities on this world, that seems getting smaller compared with the huge innovation and technology advances that have been happening over the last years.
For those consultants interested on entering to the new digital world, those challenges might rise a bit their sense of preoccupation or fear to the unknown. While IT consultants are more used to change and evolution than other professionals, new technology is changing really fast the way of doing business and operational processes for most of the companies in all aspects: Marketing, Commerce, Supply Chain, Procurement, Sales, Finance, etc.
S/4HANA as SAP’s digital-core solution is here, and it is causing those effects on the SAP consultants as well, I can say that because of my experience on a Simple Finance project last year. Due to an important change on system architecture, user interface and in-memory technology, S/4HANA provides more than the usual ERP system tool with transactional and operative business processes. In the past, if a company wanted to extend functionality, it might had to implement SAP's business extensions like APO for supply chain planning and control, SRM for advanced procurement, CRM for sales, marketing and promotions, and others like EWM, TM, Mii, MES, etc. Also when thinking on strategic information for decision-making, it would have needed a Business Warehouse, Business Objects for reports / graphics / dashboards development, and BPC for planning and consolidating financial information.
All these improvements and new architecture are changing consultants’ skills in some way. But let’s take a look on the past; at the early stages of R/3 SAP's, knowledge was distributed by modules and technical skills like Basis, ABAP, WF, etc. When SAP started expanding functionality to new systems, it made sense that a PP consultant had specialized on SCM – APO, or a SD consultant had learned about CRM, and so on. At the beginning of this millennium, knowledge migrated to process-oriented implementations, where processes like “order-to-cash”, “procure-to-pay”, “plan-to-produce” and others were the new drivers for consulting skills so they could understand the entire process even though they only had specialized on a single SAP module. For technical skills the interaction between systems and process point of view changed, it started demanding integration and BPM knowledge as well. Then the requirements of processing big amounts of information from transactional systems demanded ETL, Data Management, Data Warehousing and Data Analysis skills for Business Intelligence processes within companies to analyze information on a daily basis as part of business operations. After that, big data, advanced analytics, predictive analytics, structured and non-structured information developed new requirements for consultants to fill in the blanks for data analysis.
As digital transformation for business processes is happening right now, a lot of mentioned above skills and knowledge are needed from a consulting point of view. Where not only system configuration, process understanding, advanced functionality, integration, information management and analytics skills won't be enough, consultants must meet all those and enrich them with business scenarios usage for companies as well as integration with new architecture schemes, internet of things (IoT), role-based processes, digital tracking, technical advances and others.
Having said that, you must be thinking that I am crazy to believe that SAP consultants should have all these skills and knowledge together. Well, I am still thinking that way, because I am not saying they must be experts on everything, a SAP consultant must be able to:
Configure SAP system: basic task, but consider S4 has a new footprint and there are some simplifications, while some functions are no longer available.
Understand end-to-end processes: where configuration is taking place, if there is not such understanding, it will be very hard to prepare the system on what is required. On S4 a process might not end where it used to, so be aware of this.
Advanced functionality: if there are requirements that are not covered by standard or advanced functions within ERP or other tools like APO, CRM, SRM, EWM, TM, etc. These scenarios must be addressed during Business Blue Print, also some functions on APO, CRM, SRM have been or will be integrated on S4 core (see S/4HANA roadmap).
Integration: to know the basics of system integration is vital for any consultant, at least have a guide and work together with technical team to look for IDOCs, BADIs, BAPIs, and SAP’s standard integration like CIF and Middleware.
Information Management: this is a must, I don’t mean they need to be BW or BO experts, but instead I would look for consultants that know where to find relevant data (transactions, tables, fields, etc.) and how to use it to define operational reports, business KPI’s, decision-taking dashboards and all related info to improve business processes.
Analytics: what consultants must know is how to correlate data and events to create advanced analytics and how they are related and/or impact over business processes, they don't need to be mathematicians or data scientists, but when implementing, they need to know how to define what are the key internal and external factors relevant to customer’s operations.
The new skills to develop when going to S/4HANA are the following, and consider they are not as hard as they could seem:
S4 Offering: to know the SAP’s S/4HANA offering is really important to guide customers beforehand to informed decisions on the road-map to S4.
New architecture: to understand S4 architecture, at least the basics, tools provided by new core, licensing types and their restrictions.
Internet of things: processes end-to-end will change, now interaction with customers, partners, vendors, external information and different sources would be easier to integrate to core system, so consultants must consider this on extended process settings.
Roles and profiles: a role-based configuration and user experience provided by FIORI requires precise definition of roles within the business processes, these roles are operative, tactic and strategic so access to certain information for some of them is vital.
In memory technology: accessing to real-time data gets not only feasible, but easier by the time; however the hard part of it, is to define which segments of data are useful for decision-making on a time-based relation, do not waste space and resources trying to analyze everything in a real-time basis, you may get lost.
Development capabilities: as of app based capabilities with development tools, consultants must design the right tools to develop applications for HANA or any other in-memory development platform like HCI (depending on business and architecture convenience), they must work really close with architects and developers to get the most of new tools and the in-memory system benefits and decide upon where a functionality must reside.
Finally, SAP consultants will face these and some other challenges on going to S/4HANA, do not hesitate to prepare your self to affront them if you are interested on getting ready for the new digital era, the future is now.